Real Ventures’ Janet Bannister says FinTechs that use AI can build “winning” companies

Janet Bannister

Real Ventures’ Janet Bannister is an active force in the Toronto tech community. She can often be found speaking at events and providing her expertise on topics like raising VC money and encouraging diversity in tech companies.

As Canada 150 looms closer, many startups in the community are having discussions on what the future of Canadian innovation looks like. Bannister will be sharing her thoughts at the Empire Startups FinTech Conference on June 27 during its Ahead by a Century panel.

To get a sneak peek at what to expect, Bannister spoke with Empire Startups Program Director Stephanie MacConnell about what it will take to scale Canada’s FinTech ecosystem.


Tell us about Real Ventures.

Real Ventures is Canada’s leading seed-stage venture capital firm. We invest in ambitious entrepreneurs who are redefining markets and creating significant value. Real Ventures has made several investments in the FinTech space, particularly in Toronto. For me personally, almost half of the companies in my portfolio are FinTech-related.

At the Empire FinTech Conference, you’re speaking on our “Ahead by a Century” panel, discussing the Canadian FinTech landscape. Can you give us a preview of your thoughts on the space?

There is a huge opportunity in the FinTech space. One way to divide the FinTech landscape is into “challengers,” who compete with incumbents, and “enablers,” who provide technology to existing players.

Both types of FinTech companies have their own advantages and disadvantages; challengers can often get to market more quickly, but can struggle to cost-effectively acquire customers at scale. For enablers, one of the most common challenges is time-to-market as they go through lengthy technology validation and business negotiation with legacy players. But I believe that both types of companies can succeed in Canada and I think we will see large, profitable companies of both types created in Canada.

Interestingly, we are increasingly seeing companies that play both roles, both going directly to the end user and partnering with incumbents to reach their customers as well.

janet bannister

Janet Bannister speaking on a VC panel

Canada, generally speaking, is a very different market than the US for FinTech. Canada’s smaller population and more concentrated financial institutions often make it harder for country-specific challengers to gain significant traction in some areas. For instance, we have not seen consumer loan marketplaces such as Lending Club achieve the same penetration in Canada as they have in the US.

What’s the biggest missing piece in the Canadian FinTech ecosystem?

The Canadian ecosystem is very strong and as a country, we have very deep technical skills. Ontario graduates more post-secondary STEM graduates than the state of California; Montreal, Toronto, and Edmonton are world-leaders in AI; and Waterloo engineers are sought from companies around the world.

FinTech over the next several years will be the emergence and implementation of leading-edge AI applications.

In addition, we have no shortage of ambitious, driven entrepreneurs. The biggest missing piece for scaling young companies in Canada is often marketing and sales executives who understand how to scale disruptive, fast-paced, rapidly growing companies. That’s changing as our ecosystem matures, but if I had a magic wand and could change something, I would have more experienced sales and marketing people who could help grow young companies exponentially.

Why is building a network within the local FinTech community so important?

A strong, supportive community is the foundation upon which multiple successful tech companies can be created. A strong entrepreneurial ecosystem ties companies together so they learn from each other and help each other. The data has shown that once an entrepreneurial community reaches critical mass, the number and success rate of companies within that community increases dramatically.

Canada has very strong entrepreneurial ecosystems, not just among FinTech companies, but among the broader tech startup scene. FinTech can benefit from and add to other industries as they often face similar challenges such as finding product-market fit, optimizing go-to-market, hiring the right team, and building a winning culture. Conferences are an important part of the community because they are an opportunity for people to learn, and perhaps more importantly, to meet and talk with others who are facing similar challenges. It is great that networking with the cross-border speakers and crowd will be a core element of the Empire FinTech Conference on June 27.

To you, what is the most interesting thing happening in FinTech right now?

The thing that will fundamentally change FinTech over the next several years will be the emergence and implementation of leading-edge AI applications. AI will drive innovation and disruption in all industries, but financial services will be particularly affected because of the opportunities to use huge amounts of data to make better decisions, develop new products and services, and create new businesses.

Companies that can access unique, robust data sets and use AI algorithms to create transformational value have a great chance of building a winning company.

Hear more from Janet at the Empire FinTech Conference on June 27. Grab a ticket and take 10% off with code BETAKIT10 here.

Stephanie MacConnell

Stephanie MacConnell

Stephanie MacConnell is the Program Director at Empire Startups, a FinTech community with hubs in NYC, SF and Toronto. She is wild about innovation and travel.